This has been a busy month for travel – Seoul, Kyiv, The Hague, Munich and Berlin – and all of it for work. Travelling on business has its perks – just this week I stood on the line where the Berlin wall once stood; I saw the barricades still standing in Kyiv’s Independence Square; I squeezed in a short early morning stroll along a Dutch canal on a beautiful spring day.
But it’s still work. “Sightseeing” is from the car window to and from the airport or after dark, and always close to the hotel. Time zones (and lobby bars) can play havoc with sleep schedules. And I am convinced there’s money to be made teaching North Americans how to operate European showers; every single one of them is different.
Dining well on the road isn’t always easy either. Doing business in Copenhagen and don’t want to miss the chance to eat at Noma? If you want a reservation, you’d better know exactly what night you will be free and how many colleagues will be joining you at least four months in advance. It’s not always practical to plan ahead. Expediency tends to dictate what the business traveller eats. But there are ways to make the experience better. Here are a few things I try to do:
- Get the right advice. The internet may be the font of all knowledge, but unless you know the city well or want to spend a lot of time on Google maps trying to figure out what’s good and close to the hotel, tap an expert. Ask the hotel restaurant and bar staff where they go for a bite when they’re done work. People who work with food tend to know where the best (and often inexpensive) places are. They always know the places that stay open late.
- Eat local. Just this week in Munich we were presented with the opportunity to have a quick lunch but, of course, none of us knew what was good and nearby. Some headed for the Italian restaurant on the corner. The rest of us walked an extra block to a biergarten, where I had the knackwurst and sauerkraut. A cliché? Perhaps, but it was good. Besides, eating sausage and sauerkraut just seems right when you’re in Munich. Sticking with the native dishes improves your chances of getting something decent. Who goes to Bavaria for Italian food?
- Eat exotic. If local cuisine is hard to find (is there even Dutch restaurant in The Hague?) historical links between countries can help you make good choices. We found a great little Indonesian place nestled in among the Irish bars and pizza joints near our hotel in The Hague. I have had excellent Vietnamese in Paris and Indian is always a good bet in London.
- Be ready. One time in Manhattan when our meetings ended early, I took a shot in the dark and called Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton’s wonderful but tiny restaurant in The Bowery. “Can you come right now,” they said, “we’ve just had a cancellation?” We were hailing a cab within seconds.
- Get inspired. I try to use business trips as a jumping off point to try new things at home. A single night in Seoul earlier this month didn’t afford me much of a chance to eat. But I was inspired to experiment with Korean recipes in my own kitchen. Ukrainian is coming next. The sign in the picture above says “Probieren Sie” – German for “try it.” Good advice. Sometimes, however, you just have to try it at home.
How do you eat well on the road?